Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique

Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique

Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique

Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique

Synopsis

Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique is an empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated study which challenges the conventional view of Japanese studies in general and the Anglophone anthropological writings on Japan in particular.

Excerpt

Anthropology - the study of man - is a peculiar discipline, as it inherently implies not simply the study of man, but the study of man by man. In other words, it is eternally confined in the self-study, the exploration of one's own kind. Nevertheless, and sadly but perhaps inevitably, humans manage to create a division between those who study other humans and those who are studied by other humans. Of course, humans have always thought about themselves ever since they first possessed writing, if not earlier. But this nineteenth-century invention was different: whereas philosophers thought about why we are the way we are, anthropologists started with the question why they are the way they are.

The rise of this discipline, like that of many other modern academic disciplines, coincided with the colonial expansion of the west on a global scale. Since its birth in the nineteenth century, anthropology has gone through many transformations. It moved from what was an armchair reflection on remote, exotic tribes, to fieldwork-oriented hard science by the early decades of the twentieth century. By the mid-century, with the independence of former European colonies in Asia and Africa, anthropology faced a keen need to redefine its mission. In the face of stern criticism from within and outside the discipline, western metropolitan centers of anthropology came to terms with their own history as cultural sentries of imperialism.

In the period following World War II and the 1960s independence of African nations, anthropology saw an interesting turn initiated within the western tenet. The hitherto dominant British structural-functionalism began to lose its paradigmatic status: structural functionalism assumed the static equilibrium in the primitive tribal society and was ill equipped with theoretical tools to account for a new vision offered by the independence of African nations now aspiring to modernization and industrialization (e.g. Asad 1973). In France, unlike Britain, the influence of structuralism promoted by Claude Lévi-Strauss had been strong in anthropology (e.g. Lévi-Strauss 1963-76). Following the rise of post-structuralism in Parisian philosophical circles, in which new versions of Marxism, known variably as structural

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